The day started off picture perfect – I slept in, had breakfast and checked out of Hotel Atmospheres in Paris. My Eurostar train from Paris to London was scheduled for 1 p.m. so I had time to leisurely stroll around the city one last time before bidding adieu. The sun was shining and the skies a gorgeous blue as I walked without a care in the world. The Paris taxi strike was a memory, my injured foot was healing and I had a planned to enjoy the last few hours by taking photos and pick up a takeaway lunch with sweet treats to bring on the train. I was going to London specifically for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This historic ceremony has continued every night for over 700 years as they lock up the Tower and while the tickets are free, they are also limited and tough to get as they are sold out generally six months or more in advance. I had found one ticket prior to leaving on my travel sabbatical and was super excited to finally attend the ceremony.
Back at the hotel, I ordered a taxi to take me to Gard du Nord. This is when my picture perfect day started to melt away.
Gard du Nord – Money Please!!!
As we arrived in the chaos outside the station (there are no lanes to drop off or park, the driver just stops and you get out), a hand with a piece of paper slapped my window. I was paying the driver and the paper was asking for money. I had to force the door open and was immediately accosted by a girl asking me for money, begging to help her plight. I said “sorry I can’t help you I’m unemployed” which is true but frankly I’m traveling in Paris and by taxi so it’s a bit of a contradiction. Nonetheless, I walked toward the station. A woman approaches me and asks if I speak English (another plea for money), I replied in French that I didn’t speak English and then said “sorry” in English. She starts yelling, “you do speak English” and I replied “sorry, I can’t help you”.
Eurostar – Paris to London
Inside the station, I turned right toward the Eurostar stairs and instantly knew something was wrong. I looked up and there were many folks just waiting to clear and I thought “crap, I’m not going to make my train”. As I neared the stairs, there was a large crowd and tape across the stairs. The monitors warned of a stoppage at the tunnel and the announcement said “try your journey tomorrow”. WTF!? Staying another day would involve a Paris hotel (expensive), missing the Tower of London Keys Ceremony (reason for the trip) and missing my Airbnb key pickup (no refund for unused night) – none of this was an option so I scrambled to figure out a solution. While the Eurostar is the easiest way to get from Paris to London, today I was going to find out what the more expensive and frustrating option was going to be (a one way flight from Orly to London City).
A bit confused by this madness, I saw a group of four London businessmen and one looked helpful. I asked what was going on and was told “there are protestors near the tunnel that set fire to the tracks and all Eurostar trains are canceled right now”. This seemed a perfect time to say (in my mind only) Bollocks!
I tried to see what they were going to do to get back to London and asked a few questions. They could rent a car but with the tunnel issue, the ferry was blocked. The only option was to fly and they were on the phone to secure seats. I said “is that the BA flight to City?” and the nice guy said “it’s the Air France flight”.
The Travel Agent Connection
This is when having a travel agent is key. I checked flights online and everything was sold out (I was cursing that foursome thinking they got the last seats). I contacted my UK London travel company and they found me the last seat (so I was told) on the Air France flight (I didn’t ask price because I knew it was outrageous for a day of flight ticket). She would email me details and need my credit card (I didn’t have a profile on file with them). With that, I ran out to get a taxi to the airport. A man approached me about a taxi, I said “no thanks, I’m good” and got in the next taxi. He held the door for me and then yelled that I owed him money for the service. You can imagine how insane I was at this time and fed up with the folks begging for money. He kept yelling at me that he helped me get a cab. At this point, my calm was gone and my East Coast shield was up as I told him that I didn’t ask for his service and told the taxi driver to go. The more the guy yelled, the more I yelled (not one of my finer moments).
The Taxi to Orly
The taxi driver spoke very little English but enough to tell me he was taking a shortcut to Orly around the traffic. I didn’t care how we got there as my wi-fi was gone and I was repeating my credit card numbers and details to the UK travel agent over the phone in the back of the cab (I didn’t care about security only the plane ticket). We got to Orly quicker than the estimated time and for much less that I rounded up more than I should have -he practically hugged me.
No Patience for This
Further security violations happened when the Air France check in screen in BIG letters asked me to add all my personal information that could be seen by folks in the vicinity. I added my Passport information and the rest of my data to check in and go to baggage drop. There was a very long line which seemed odd. We were told that the baggage belt was broken so no bags could be checked. ARE YOU KIDDING? To add to this, the two elderly French women behind me kept hitting my ankles with their luggage trolley as we inched closer to the desks. I turned around a few times and they apologized and then it stopped all together as I realized they jumped the queue and were checking in at business class. Apparently the Air France rep told the group in French they could go there once the belts were working. I saw those little old ladies check in and it would be another hour for me in line.
After my bag was checked in, I finally had time to sit and eat my lunch that I bought earlier in the day. During this my friend texted me and said “you’re the jinx” referring to my injured foot in Malta and a few other calamities. I text back a few choice words but was thinking maybe I was the jinx.
The Airbnb in London
So while all of this was happening, I was texting the owner of the London Airbnb rental, who was on holiday in Greece. I was scheduled to pick up the keys from the cleaning lady at 4 p.m. As the flight wasn’t leaving until 5:45 p.m., I was going to miss the pickup so the keys were moved to a local shop that closed at 7 p.m. With the one hour time difference, I was scheduled to arrive close to 6 p.m. (until the multiple delays).
Sorry for the Delay(s)
The gates at Orly are dreadfully small and were teeming with passengers as all incoming flights were delayed. There was a long queue for one flight and all seats filled at the three gates with folks on the floor. My flight was no longer on the monitor as it had been delayed more than once since I arrived. The multiple delays were more than an hour and my Airbnb key pickup window slowly closing. Afraid I’d need to find a hotel for the night during Wimbledon (expensive) and get the keys in the morning, I texted many friends in London begging for help.
Luckily, I found an angel in Roma, travel writer and photographer of Roaming Required (show her some love and read her blog!). She rearranged her plans with her husband, would jump on a Boris bike and get my keys for me! I felt so much better as I boarded the plane looking out the window and shoving those sugary treats in my face to calm my nerves. And then the two rabbis and a high school band boarded just like in the movies (or a bad joke). One rabbi sat next to me with his colleague in the middle seat the row ahead. The kids in the band were singing as they walked by and I was envisioning the movie “Airplane” and hoping the pilot wasn’t a plastic blow up doll! I was praying to just get me to London and to the Keys ceremony.
Welcome to London City Airport
The flight is just under an hour from Paris to London City Airport and this was my first flight into LCY. The plane does its final approach as the city’s icons are below – we were flying over the Thames, Tower of London (hey, can you just drop me here?), the Shard building and so many incredible views. This is now one of my favorite ways to land in London. City Airport is small and immigration was quick and friendly!! My friend the taxi driver was there to greet me (a familiar face was so welcome after this hellish day) and take me to the Airbnb South Kensington flat where Roma was waiting.
I Need A Drink or Two!
We arrived at the flat and Roma came out to meet us. She was such a star for helping me! I was exhausted, starving and wanted to fall into bed. It was after 8:30 pm and I needed to settle in so I had to say “adieu to the Tower of London” as I found the M&S Food (and wine).
Note: I could have dropped bags and taken the taxi to the Tower of London but that wasn’t fair to Roma after all she had done for me. I recounted my day for her and we agreed, much wine was needed.
This trains, planes and automobiles nightmare travel day from Paris to London really tested me and is now one of my top 5 Worst Travel Days. While my friend congratulated me on my resourcefulness, I was happy that I didn’t have a travel meltdown in the airport. No tears were shed this day although when I saw the $450 airline charge on my credit card……
Travel definitely tests your resolve, your relationships and your skills at handling adversity. I’m ready for The Amazing Race now! What about you? What’s your Nightmare Travel Story?